Edmonton Public Schools is using some of the money received from the federal government for a safe return to the classroom on fast COVID-19 testing for staff.
Earlier this month, the division contracted with Aceso Medical to provide mobile testing for teachers, principals and support staff who either have symptoms or who have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
The company can send a tester to someone's home if they live in Edmonton, or provide tests in a mobile unit at Edmonton Public's main office just north of downtown. Results are expected within 24 to 36 hours.
The school district hopes the rapid tests will allow staff who received a negative result to return to class once their symptoms subside — if they weren't exposed to a known COVID case. Staff who were exposed to someone with COVID -19 will still have to isolate for 14 days.
The cost of this pilot project is estimated to be $500,000 to $1 million dollars depending on how many tests are performed. The district is receiving $37.4 million dollars under the federal Safe Return to Class Fund.
"At this stage, it is a pilot project," Edmonton Public Schools spokesperson Megan Normandeau said in an interview on Friday.
"The project is being assessed at multiple times throughout the year and in the coming months. Of course, those needs may fluctuate or there may be changes as we see a pandemic roll through but of course, this is quite unprecedented."
Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, said he understands why the district is using part of its federal restart money for rapid testing.
He argues the Alberta government should have stepped up its own testing game so the district wouldn't have to pay a private company out of funds that should stay in the classroom.
"The government should be providing a rapid testing system for teachers and all frontline workers who would need this," he said.
"The provincial government, should be doing more to ensure that the test turnarounds are happening as quick as possible."
Normandeau wasn't able to provide the number of tests Aceso has performed. Schilling said he heard from local ATA members that the company was "overwhelmed" by how many people have taken tests.
"I know they were swamped and having some lag time themselves with turning the tests around," he said.
Tom McMillan, assistant director of communications with Alberta Health, said in an email that the province is working to expand testing capacity to reduce wait times. He said 400 Alberta pharmacies are offering asymptomatic testing.
"We encourage any school board that is considering this approach to follow the guidance provided by Alberta Health," he wrote in an email
"All testing must be performed on Health Canada-approved technologies and used in compliance with testing guidelines issued by [Chief Medical Officer of Health] Dr. [Deena] Hinshaw and Alberta Health. This applies to molecular methods, antibody/serology tests, and antigen tests."
McMillan said Alberta has also indicated an interest in using the Abbott ID NOW rapid testing device approved this week by Health Canada.